11.10Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 11.10

November 29, 2010

Exhibition: Paris: Life & Luxury

If you have ever wanted to step back in time and visit 18th century France at its best, now is your chance.  The Getty is hosting an exhibition called Paris: Life & Luxury. Life & Luxury is all about the insane impact the French culture had on the rest of the world; the exhibition sets out to prove why that was.  The exhibition features pieces from 18th century France, and the timeline set up is what really transports the visitor.

As you pass through the exhibition, you walk through a day essentially, of an 18th century wealthy Parisian.  You are surrounded by all the little splendors and necessities needed for the day.  There will be furniture, art, architectural fittings, instruments and more.

"The exhibition will be a rich and deep sensory experience, engaging the viewer's initial attention with the compelling visual appeal of superlative and virtuoso works of art. From this breadth and diversity, visitors will learn generally about the contributions of the French, and in particular the Parisian, to the visual and performing arts, language, literature, history, science, and even culinary arts during this time period—in short, about their major contribution to the humanities at large."
Charissa Bremer-David, co-curator, Paris: Life & Luxury

The items come from collections around the world, and many from private collections.  This is your chance to see a really wonderful grouping of items together for the first time, and all from our favorite century!

The exhibition is travelling, and will only be on view for limited times.
  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: 26 April - 27 August 2011
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: 18 September - 10 December 2011
 Do you think you will go? We will want all the details from those who do!

If you cannot make it to the show, you can now pre-order the exhibitions accompanying book, Paris: Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century.  The book discusses aspects from the show and of course, life in 18th century France.  Some topics of interest are 18th century fashion, the latest in technology, ritual of the morning toilette, and my favorite: architecture for privacy! Did I mention it features many wonderful full color images of the artifacts from the show?

November 24, 2010

La Muette Castle

Charles Leopold van Grevenbroeck, Arrival of King Louis XV at La Muette Castle in 1738. Painting.  Musée Carnavalet.

If only every day could be as lovely as this! Grevenbroeck painted this scene of Louis XV arriving at one of his favorite hunting lodges, La Muette Castle.  The building has an interesting little history.  It was built by Charles IX.  This is not surprising, Charles was infatuated with the sport, and devoted a good portion of time to publishing a book on hunting.  His work is called La Chasse Royal, published in 1625, a copy of which can be found at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.  The king would reside at the castle for the full hunting season.  


La Muette Castle was not often frequented for the next three reigns in France, until Louis XIII took the throne.  He too appreciated the home for its hunting grounds and location.  Louis XIII was said to be addicted to hunting and hawking, participating in the sports quite often.  His mother, Marie de Medici was responsible for his favorite pastimes...she had introduced a sportsman to the court, by the name of Luynes.  Luynes introduced a new pastime to the the young king, indoor hawking!  If the weather was poor, the king could hawk small birds within the indoor galleries.  I wonder if he ended up reading his predecessors book?


The reign of Louis XV proved the most beneficial for the castle, when the Regent Duc d'Orleans was in charge of the country he made considerable improvements on the building, and his sister the duchesse de Berri would find it a comfortable spot to stay.  When Louis XV was old enough to appreciate sport and travel, he put some money into the castle.  He modernized it so it could better be inhabited by the court and himself.
When her family was forced to move to the Tuileries from Versailles, Marie Antoinette spent a night at this castle, while the other was prepared.  Another fun fact about the  La Muette Castle, is that the first hot air balloon ascent occurred there! 

November 22, 2010

Queens of Style: Marie de Medici

Frans Pourbus the Younger, Marie de' Medici, Queen of France (1573-1642). 1610, oil on canvas.  Intended for Petite Galerie of the Palais du Louvre. Musée du Louvre.

Queen Marie de Medici, daughter of Francesco I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, married off to Henry IV of France who was not only twenty years her senior, but a divorcee as well.  The day after she was crowned Queen her husband was assassinated while stuck in post coronation traffic.  She then became Regent until her son Louis XIII came of age.

Here she is seen wearing pearls, diamonds, garnets, sapphires and lace, in a blue gown trimmed in ermine.  

November 19, 2010

Lecture: Blogging, Now and Then (250 years ago)

It is fun to think about the connections between Perez Hilton's posts about Lady Gaga and a paragraph man's description of the Duchess of Devonshire's latest ridiculous fashion triumph.  Naturally, when we heard of Robert Darnton's approaching lecture on the topic, Heather and I were sure to attend!  The whole lecture did not take this path, however, we steered into a more bibliophile tone of discussion: the genetic make up of the publicationsᶦ (blogs and scandalous publications of the 18th century).

The eighteenth century publication which related all the personal details you might want to know about a celebrity could have been published as a 'Vie Privee'.   An example Darnton used was Vie Privee De Louis XV; a four set volume published in 1781 as a biography of the late king.

The biography was actually filled with anecdotes of a scandalous nature, it describes the private life of the king.  These anecdotes were supposed to be true and previously undisclosed facts.  The volumes would be read, the content absorbed, and the information shared amongst others.  Could the comparison be made about picking up this set of volumes in the eighteenth century and subscribing to your favorite gossip blogs and/or saving a search about 'Paris Hilton'?  Maybe.  Back to the anecdotes!

So the anecdotes are the little tidbits of gossip.  Here is one:

"He [Duke of Orléans] deplored her death rather as a lover in despair than as an afflicted father."
on his daughter's death from Vie Privee De Louis XV

This small piece of scandalous information may have been collected around town.  Perhaps it was scribbled down on a piece of paper, and later made its way into a pamphlet of gossip.  When the author of the Vie Privee sat down and began his biography, his sources for many of these data-sized facts came from the previous gossips.  He pulled information from various sources and like brickwork, laid them into each volume, one bit after another.  I think he had enough style to ease transitions and make an easily readable work.  But essentially, his gathering of the data, and compiling it into a format French readers were used to was all they needed to understand the content.

Darnton discussed the fact that there were various levels of readers.  Those whom where sophisticated enough could process the information presented in one of these volumes and deem its weight and truth.  Some of the readership was so intelligent on the subject they could put the facts into the context of which they were written, and figure out what member of court could have come up with such a fact and what their motive would have been.  Others took the facts presented in each volume at face value, and the rumors carried on to entertain many.

Perhaps historical gossip blogs are the modern hybrid of these vehicles and methods of sharing such delicate and juicy information!

If you are interested in Darnton's study of gossip in the 18th century I recommend his recent book: "The Devil in the Holy Water or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon"
Read my review here.

The idea of DNA of these gossip filled books offered by a commenter at the lecture.

November 17, 2010

About Him: Du de Choiseul

"He was witty and gallant, and gifted with manners so elegant and fascinating that they never failed to remove the first unfavourable impression caused by his excessive plainness" 

November 15, 2010

Marie Antoinette and a little peer pressure

Mytens or Meytens, Martin II. Archduchess Marie Antoinette Habsburg-Lotharingen , 1767-68, oil on canvas.




 This is an account from the Comte de Mercy on a rather off day for the young dauphine, Marie Antoinette.   One day in 1770 the court was just relocating for the season to Versailles (previously at Choisy).  Because the hunting grounds were so rich at Choisy, the king decided to go on one last hunt.  Still a very new member of the royal family, the young Marie Antoinette accompanied her new aunts (Louis XV's daughters) as they all followed the king on the hunt.

The group of ladies only got so far, when it was decided they needed to turn around. The hunt was venturing too far out to follow.  In the carriage, Mesdames grew concerned that the terrain was too soft for the coach to remain stable and decided they needed to exit the coach at once.  Marie Antoinette tried to persuade them to pause and remain seated, but it was an unsuccessful attempt.

Older and more influential than she was, Antoinette followed her new aunts out of the coach into the soft, swampy ground.  They took the lead but she fell behind when her foot started to slip out of her shoe! The mud was so thick it had literally swallowed her shoe leaving her to hop along in her stocking on the cold wet ground.

When she returned to Choisy she was frozen and wet from the weather.  To make matters worse, as she attempted to dry off near the fire, her garment caught a flame! Needless to say she was thrilled when they all headed back to the comfort of Versailles.  Her excitement faded quickly upon arrival however, when she found her rooms unprepared and no fires burning.  She was so chilled from the earlier events that she developed a cold and sore throat which she dealt with for the following three days.  It was a terrible way to bring in the new year!

November 08, 2010

Family Tree: Polignac

The duchesse de Polignac was popular for her unpopularity during the French Revolution.  The name Polignac became a word interchangeable with 'hate,' as her close relationship with Marie Antoinette made for ample stories of the worst types; her reputation suffered daily.  The family was not always hated, and indeed would not always be!This post will touch on some of the 'highlights,'' if y

The Polignac's were a noble born family, but they were not very well off and were really provincial noblesse. They claimed their family dated back to the fifth century, but between the fifth and the eighteenth there were few members who could be coined remarkable.

Not until the eleventh century does a Polignac claim family relations.  This lone Polignac began the tracing of the family tree.  Their claim to nobility traced back to Caius Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius also known as Saint Apollinaris, both a man of the state and a poet.  Sidonius married the daughter of Roman Emperor Avitus, the union was advantageous for Gaul-Roman relations.  He also became a senator of Rome, and bishop of Avernum. All his accomplishments were later topped by his becoming a Saint! Although the Apollinaris name dates to the 5th century, the family tree is a little fuzzy from there.

The 11th century Polignac participated in the First Crusade and retired in Vellay.  During the sixteenth century, since the court of Francois I, the later mistress of Henry II, Diane de Poitiers, had shown favor on the family.  Her influence on the family had a positive effect and indebted to her, a tradition was born; to name all daughters Diane.

The name was not commonly known again until the Abbe Melchoir who would become the Cardinal de Polignac.  His fortunes began early when he was sent to Paris for his education.  While there the Cardinal de Bouillon noticed the bright boy and had him accompany him as a secretary to Rome.  While there his personality beamed and he made many friends in high places.   His work in Rome caught the attention of Louis XIV.  One of the high moments of the abbe's life was when he helped persuade the King to sign the Treaty of Utrecht.  He became Cardinal de Polignac on the recommendation from the King of England.

Possibly Diane de Polignac
This Cardinal had a fine taste for art, was an accomplished writer, and spoke fluently in several languages.  He was worldly and hospitable and generous.  The fortunes of the Cardinal de Polignac were passed down the family to a nephew, whose daughter Diane secured the post of lady in waiting to the Comtesse d'Artois.  Her lively spirit and easy going personality won over the court, her good conversation and wit made up for a lack of beauty.  So popular she became, that she received the title of cannoness and a substantial income with it.

Diane's younger brother, Jules, remained at the family home in the country.  He was set up for a marriage of convenience with Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron.  The marriage did not do either family any favour as they were both old nobility and poor nobility.  After she secured a friendship with Marie Antoinette did her lot improve dramatically. Her husband Jules and herself were given the title of duc and duchesse de Polignac. Her sister in Law Diane also reaped benefits from the friendship, as the King made her Comtesse and appointed her head of the household of Madame Elizabeth.

November 01, 2010

What Would Louis XIV Do?

In the news today Prince Sixte-Henri de Bourbon (you may know him as Louis XIV's heir) has moved forward to sue Versailles.  All the trouble has been stirred over the recent shows held at the palace which feature modern artists.  The current show that is causing a stir is that of Takashi Murakami, which opened September 12.  The Prince heads the group Coordination de la Défense de Versailles, and the lawsuit is targeted at the exhibition coordinators. 

"In the suit, the royalists allege that the château of Versailles is the intellectual property of Louis XIV and his descendants and that the display of Murakami's artwork infringes on their rights."

It will be interesting to see the outcome of this case!  Have you been to Versailles to see any of the modern shows hosted there?  The previous show featured work by Jeff Koons.